Lone Blogger Takes On the UN

You've all seen them. You know, those chain emails that always seem to be making the rounds, pleading for political action of some form or another.

If you're like most people, you either delete the message and grumble about all the junk you get in your in-box, or you immediately forward the email to everyone you know, without actually taking time to carry out the mission requested by the person who sent you the message in the first place (who also may or may not have followed through, but whose own conscience was assuaged by the fact that he or she had passed the torch on to others, thus being absolved of any guilt resulting from inaction).

I’ve done both. But when this email arrived, I chose to act. And amazingly, I got results.

Here’s what the Email said:

"FW: UNDP (you won't believe this....)

I urge all of you all to read the first two sentences in the website below and then write to the UNDP and express your feelings. Please pass it on to as many people as you can and ask them to do the same.

http://www.undp.org.lb/about/AboutLebanon.cfm"

The request was certainly straightforward enough. I went to the website to see what they were talking about. As an Israeli, I was highly displeased that this official UN site declared that Lebanon ”is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Palestine to the south.”

Unlike countless other Emails I'd received, this one bothered me enough that it was one I wasn’t going to pass over or just pass on. Instead, I contacted the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), sending them the following message:

"I am writing with regard to content given on the UNDP's Lebanon web page (http://www.undp.org.lb/about/AboutLebanon.cfm). The first two sentences are displayed as follows:

"The Lebanese Republic is a small, mostly mountainous country in the [sic] Western Asia, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Palestine to the south."

While such text may be the work of local writers with obvious interests, the bottom line is that the UNDP is a UN-affiliated program, and as such, one would expect that content on an official UN website would reflect the official position of the organization (the official position being, of course, that the country bordering Lebanon to the south is Israel), and not local biases on the ground…

Thank you for investigating this issue. I look forward to your response and to a speedy resolution."

I also informed them that I had posted about the matter on my blog, and planned to follow up and post their response.

It would be an understatement to say that I was extremely surprised when, within hours, not only did I receive an email from an individual at the UNDP letting me know that the issue was being investigated, but suddenly, a flurry of hits from the UNDP and Lebanon appeared on my blog statistics, indicating that they were taking the issue seriously. Less than five hours after my initial contact, I received yet another email, letting me know that the error had been fixed; that Israel was now Lebanon's southern neighbor.

I had effected change. I was pleased and I was proud. And, I was curious. According to the friend who had sent me the email, the message had been forwarded at least twice before she received it. Clearly, it had been in circulation for at least a few days before it reached me, yet somehow, it seemed that I was the one who'd made it happen.

Had any of the others followed through on the request or, had they simply forwarded the email without taking action as I tended to do with most that I received? If others had indeed contacted the UNDP, was the fact that I had a blog made a difference?

I'm not sure why my expectations were so low (though perhaps the UN's rather spotty record on most Israel-related issues played a role in my thought processes), but I hadn't expected the matter to be handled so expediently as a result of my email. I assumed the presence of a chain message meant that a larger campaign was underway, and that the email's originator believed mass public pressure was required to ensure UNDP compliance.

It truly never occurred to me that I'd be able to handle this one on my own, succeeding within hours, with minimal fuss and energy. In fact, the end result came about so quickly that, despite being pleased because I had succeeded, it was actually almost anticlimactic somehow. It had been too easy.

The accolades from friends and acquaintances were not long in coming, and I was proud that I caused the UN to change, even in this minor way. It served as a lesson that the cliche regarding one person making a difference was often right.

Now if only my influence carried as much weight in the UN Security Council...

Liza Rosenberg lives in Israel and blogs at Something Something